SUMMARY:This panel queries how novels, plays, and short stories by Arab writers in northern Europe are creatively imagining local place and migration on the one hand, and the aesthetics and politics of Arabic migration literature, on the other.
In a recent article, Amro Ali suggests a need to name and shape an Arab body politic in Berlin, to more consciously designate the city as a space where "alternative narratives and futures" can be created in ways that are deeply connected to the Arab world and its diasporas. Indeed in recent years, cities like Berlin, Amsterdam, and Stockholm have become veritable hubs of Arab culture, displacing the centrality London and Paris. Arabic literature and theatre in Europe has long been shifting away from the themes and contexts of 20th century colonial and postcolonial Arabic exile literature, including the frameworks of cultural encounter, political commitment, and modernist understandings of exile. New approaches to writing place, mobility, and belonging have appeared in these more recent diasporas.
The currently vibrant Syrian arts community in Berlin is central to this story. It has created both institutional space and varied audiences against the backdrop of large-scale trauma, loss, and displacement of recent years. The many Syrians who were displaced there by the ongoing war in 2015-2016 joined communities that had been established for some time, yet (for better or worse) gained new visibility. With Syrian migration to Europe having become emblematic of the so-called "migration crisis" and the simultaneous solidarity and backlash that this perceived crisis has created, it is not surprising that some writers are choosing to engage with questions of how migration and diaspora is represented.
The papers in this panel consider how Arabic literature and theatre in northern Europe engage with senses of place (cities, nature, language, audiences etc.) while maintaining links to broader fields of Arabic cultural production. We will explore aesthetics and narrative modes such as speculative fiction, magical realism, collaboratively written plays and discuss how they are reimagining the tropes of migration and exile that come from 20th century aesthetics of Arabic exile and migration literature. How are literary texts creating new entry points for imagining mobility and place? How are they resisting the expectations of their multiple audiences?